Geoff Kelly Wine Reviews
Independent reviews of some local and imported wines available in New Zealand, including earlier vintages.

The last few days of May were exciting times,  winewise.  First Steve Smith,  CEO / viticulturist and over-seeing winemaker of Craggy Range,  came to Wellington to present their 2011 Prestige Collection wines at Regional Wines & Spirits.  Then Villa Maria proposed one of their celebrated lunches at the new Mangere winery,  to present their new packaging livery,  a 'nouveau' 2013 sauvignon,  and recent releases.  Finally,  Auckland lawyer Ken Moon held one of his highly-regarded library tastings,  the theme being Northern Rhone syrah in the 1990s,  including wines from J L Chave,  generally acknowledged to be the current leader in the district.  Accordingly,  it seemed essential to take the Craggy wines under ice to Auckland the next day,  and reconcile these various wines to learn more about syrah,  particularly.

Craggy Range:  2011 was a difficult vintage in Hawke's Bay.  Steve Smith explained the measures they took to counteract expected high humidity in a strong La Nina season.  The resulting wines show a delicacy and finesse unprecedented at Craggy Range.  Steve puts this down to increasing age of the vines,  increasing wisdom in management both in the vineyard (for 2011) and in the winery,  and naturally enough,  more international reference wines tasted with every passing year,  and the knowledge gleaned therefrom.  Quality-wise,  Craggy Range is progressing exponentially.  And their website is a pleasure to use,  revealing rather than concealing key information on the wines,  unlike some New Zealand wineries.  All wines since inception are documented,  a model many other New Zealand wineries should heed,  if they wish to be taken seriously.

Villa Maria:  this firm has a remarkable lieutenant (to the founder George Fistonich) in Ian Clark.  The firm having decided there was a need to refresh the image of Villa Maria via new labels and new presentation,  Ian then decided to host a spectacular lunch to launch them at the very pleasant new Mangere winery and restaurant.  Set in vines and grassland,  and trees to come,  it really is a rural oasis in an industrial wasteland.  Not only were the new series of labels explained and presented,  but the release of a current vintage sauvignon blanc (sauvignon nouveau,  sort-of) was justified.  It is called 2013 Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc Private Bin Early Release.  To cap things off,  a dozen other current and recent new releases were shown,  in a remarkable lunch comprising five gourmet courses,  beautifully presented.

To achieve this,  Ian Clark rank rang each and every one of 44 winewriters and similar people in New Zealand.  A 'lunch' at the Villa Maria winery is recognised as quite some event,  and in the upshot 38 writers assembled at the winery.  This is an extraordinary ratio of positive response.  Needless to say,  the tasting and lunch were complimentary,  explaining the attendance.

The actual lunch and the quality of the food will no doubt be reported on by those to whom food is more important than wine.  But it was all most impressive,  Ian insisting on fresh glasses for every new wine – 12 changes of high-quality tasting glasses for 45 or so people.  Only one wine and food combination didn't work too well.

The new labelling takes the V from Villa and focuses on that chevron image,  the themes Villa Maria and New Zealand,  in an appealing series of linked and colour-coded labels spanning the Private Bin range (white background) through Cellar Selection (gold background) to Reserve and Individual Vineyard (black background).  The latter two labels cause confusion,  the Individual Vineyard being seen as a kind of ultra-Reserve with the emphasis on site and 'terroir' as well as wine quality and style.  They may be recognised by the narrow vertical up-and-down bottle label plus a narrow cross label,  the two-piece format contrasting with the more conventional single cross-bottle label of the other three.

To better evaluate these Craggy and Villa wines away from the beguiling company of the winemakers,  I kept the wines under ice and the next day set up a blind tasting to which I added the two most exciting syrahs recently released in the country:  2010 Trinity Hill Homage and 2010 Mission Estate Syrah Huchet.  This proved an exciting tasting.  And like Craggy Range,  Villa Maria's website is now a delight to use,  with good documentation of the technical parameters for each wine.

Northern Rhone Syrah:  this library tasting presented by Auckland wine-man Ken Moon offered the opportunity to study 12 Northern Rhone reds,  straight syrah or essentially so from the 1990s,  and learn about syrah the grape and its evolution in bottle.  Since this variety is proving potentially so fine in New Zealand,  and so likely to be pivotal to the future of our fine wine industry,  you would expect winewriters to be keen to attend.  Reasonably enough,  you had to pay a fair share of the cost of the wines to participate,  $120 in fact.  Needless to say,  not a single Auckland winewriter was there.  How can one have confidence in the evaluations of local wine writers,  if they are not prepared to pay to learn the smells and tastes of some the world's most famous examples of,  in this case,  syrah ?  Disappointing,  and parochial to a fault.

But it is not only Australasian winewriters who are myopic in their outlook.  The assembled tasters included some of Waiheke Island's leading winemakers,  and two other people who have done some industry judging,  so there were some wine evaluation skills in the room.  Among these people there was fair agreement that six of the 12 French wines showed some brett complexity.  Brett in wine is currently a matter of great interest in progressive wine districts.  For interest I checked such wine reviews as were available from the Northern Hemisphere winewriters Robert Parker / Wine Advocate (USA),  Wine Spectator (USA),  Stephen Tanzer / Josh Raynolds (USA),  John Livingstone-Learmonth the guru of the Rhone (UK),  and Jancis Robinson (UK).  To a quick flip through,  not one of these tasters mentioned the presence of brett in any of the affected wines.  The complete indifference to / ignoring of technical wine matters in northern hemisphere winewriting continues to be astonishing.  It really is hard to get competent wine-buying advice.

Reviews for all these wines plus a 1979 Cote Rotie which was to hand in Auckland follow:

Jancis Robinson:  www.jancisrobinson.com
John Livingstone-Learmonth:  www.drinkrhone.com
Robert Parker:  www.erobertparker.com


2011  Craggy Range Chardonnay Gimblett Gravels
2011  Craggy Range Chardonnay Kidnappers Vineyard
2011  Craggy Range Chardonnay Les Beaux Cailloux
2011  Villa Maria Chardonnay Reserve Gisborne Barrique-Ferment
Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and related blends
2012  Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough Cellar Selection Organic
2013  Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc Private Bin Marlborough Early Release
Pinot Gris
2011  Villa Maria Viognier Cellar Selection Hawkes Bay
Sweet / Sticky
2011  Villa Maria Riesling Late-Harvest Marlborough Cellar Selection
2011  Villa Maria Riesling Noble Marlborough Reserve
All other white wines, blends, etc.
2012  Villa Maria Arneis Private Bin East Coast
2012  Villa Maria Verdelho Ihumatao Single Vineyard Organic
Cabernet, Merlot, and related blends
2010  Craggy Range Merlot Gimblett Gravels
2011  Craggy Range Merlot Sophia
2005  Craggy Range Merlot Sophia
2007  Villa Maria Merlot / Cabernet Sauvignon Gimblett Gravels Reserve
 Cabernet / Shiraz
Pinot Noir
2011  Craggy Range Pinot Noir Aroha
2011  Craggy Range Pinot Noir Te Muna
2010  Villa Maria Pinot Noir Marlborough Reserve
Syrah = Shiraz
1994  Chapoutier Ermitage Le Pavillon
2000  Domaine J L Chave Hermitage
1998  Domaine J L Chave Hermitage
1995  Domaine J L Chave Hermitage
2011  Craggy Range Syrah Le Sol
1998  Guigal Cote Rotie Brune & Blonde
1995  Domaine Jamet Cote Rotie
1979  Domaine Jasmin Cote Rotie
1999  Domaine Marc Sorrel Hermitage Le Greal
1998  Domaine Michel Ogier Cote Rotie
2010  Mission Estate Syrah Huchet
1999  Domaine René Rostaing Cote Rotie Cote Blonde
1998  Domaine René Rostaing Cote Rotie
1995  Domaine René Rostaing Cote Rotie
2000  Domaine René Rostaing Cote Rotie La Landonne
2010  Trinity Hill Syrah Homage
2010  Villa Maria Syrah Gimblett Gravels Reserve
Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre & related blends
2010  Villa Maria Grenache Gimblett Gravels Cellar Selection
All other red wines, blends etc
From the Cellar. Older wines.

2011  Craggy Range Chardonnay Les Beaux Cailloux   19 +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $66   [ screwcap;  clone 95 mainly,  hand-harvested @ 6.25 t/ha (2.5 t/ac);  BF in French oak 42% new;  some wild yeast,  some MLF,  10 months LA,  limited stirring;  RS <2 g/L;  www.craggyrange.com ]
A remarkable hue of lemon,  the greenest of the four chardonnays,  always a good sign.  Bouquet is simply beautiful,  exquisite purity,  pale acacia floral notes on white and yellow stonefruits,  with crushed oystershell minerality,  neither oak nor alcohol apparent.  On bouquet alone,  one is tempted to say:  this is the best Beaux Cailloux yet.  In mouth the flavour and texture amply confirm that this is the best chardonnay Craggy Range have so far made.  Admittedly they have been slow off the mark with their chardonnay relative to their reds,  but this wine changes that perception forever.  It has the texture and weight of a good Corton-Charlemagne,  the oak is as subtle as best French white burgundy,  and the length of palate and integration of stonefruit,  barrel-ferment,  lees-autolysis and MLF is remarkable.  This may well be the best chardonnay ever made in New Zealand.  Sadly it is the last Beaux Cailloux till the 2018 vintage probably.  Due to leaf-roll virus,  the vineyard has to be completely cleaned out and replanted.  Therefore,  buy as much as you can afford,  and watch wonderful mealy and cashew complexities develop over 5 – 12 years.  GK 05/13

2011  Villa Maria Chardonnay Reserve Gisborne Barrique-Ferment   18 ½  ()
Gisborne,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $37   [ screwcap;  hand-harvested mostly clone 95,  BF in French oak 40% new,  balance second year,  some wild yeast,  100% MLF;  10 months LA and half the wine undergoing batonnage,  RS <1 g/L;  note the wine is the same price as 10 years ago;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Elegant full lemon,  marginally the deepest of these four chardonnays.  Bouquet is dramatically chardonnay in the slightly more tropical style of Gisborne,  just a hint of mango in white and yellow stonefruits,  ample barrel-ferment and lees-autolysis creamy elevation complexity,  a hint of barrel char but less than Keltern.  One could hardly ask for a clearer demonstration of obvious chardonnay characters.  Palate is rich,  succulent,  new oak more apparent now but well-covered,  nearly a brioche suggestion from the barrel-ferment,  lees-autolysis and MLF components.  Gisborne has a reputation for producing forward fleshy chardonnays,  but appearances can be deceptive.  I showed the 1986 of this exact label to the judges in this year's New Zealand Easter Wine Show,  and it tasted very well indeed,  the cashew of late maturity.  Cellar 3 – 12 years.  GK 05/13

2011  Craggy Range Chardonnay Gimblett Gravels   18  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $31   [ screwcap;  clone 95 mainly,  hand-harvested @ 6.25 t/ha (2.5 t/ac);  BF in French oak 28% new;  some wild yeast,  9 months LA,  some MLF,  limited stirring;  RS <2 g/L;  www.craggyrange.com ]
Lemon.  Bouquet on this chardonnay is simply lovely,  clear suggestions of acacia florality,  stonefruits and a chalky minerality which is totally white burgundy.  Palate shows delightful flesh,  some gentle new oak,  the barrel-ferment and lees-autolysis characters beautifully subtle and now well incorporated,  the whole winestyle with this chalky quality astonishingly close to Puligny-Montrachet.  This is remarkable New Zealand chardonnay,  having a uniformity of ripeness,  integrity and lack of angles (acid, oak) contrasting delightfully with many local wines.  Eminently drinkable,  not a big wine so dangerously drinkable even.  Cellar 2 – 8 years.  GK 05/13

2011  Craggy Range Chardonnay Kidnappers Vineyard   17  ()
Te Awanga district,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $24   [ screwcap;  75% hand-harvested @ 7.5 t/ha (3 t/ac);  50% s/s,  balance various oak vessels only 10% new,  some wild yeast;  5 months in oak and LA,  trace MLF;  RS <2 g/L;  www.craggyrange.com ]
Pale lemon.  Bouquet is clean varietal light chardonnay,  fragrant and pure,  bottled pears suggestions,  white stonefruit,  scarcely any oak.  Palate firms the wine on a white fruits base,  mostly older oak offering a light phenolic framework but scarcely any flavour,  moderate length.  This wine is designed to be an antipodean chablis,  eminently food-friendly,  inconsequential in one sense (just good to drink),  but the nett style is more modern Macon,  I suspect.  This is the best Craggy Kidnappers chardonnay yet,  but is a bit expensive for what you get.  Cellar 2 – 6 years.  GK 05/13

Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and related blends
2012  Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough Cellar Selection Organic   18  ()
Wairau & Awatere Valleys,  Marlborough,  New Zealand:  13%;  $24   [ screwcap;  cool-fermented all s/s;  4.2 g/L RS;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Pale lemon.  This is a much more serious and richer sauvignon now showing the full spread of sauvignon blanc smells and flavours at a riper level than the Early Release:  yellow and red capsicums,  an interesting hint of pale tobacco and sweet basil,  plus attractive yellow kiwifruit and black passionfruit flavours.  This is clearly richer than the Private Bin,  and similarly sauvignon-dry to the finish.  Nice wine,  good with food.  Cellar 2 – 6 years.  GK 05/13

2013  Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc Private Bin Marlborough Early Release   16 ½ +  ()
Wairau & Awatere Valleys,  Marlborough,  New Zealand:  13%;  $22   [ screwcap;  cool-fermented all s/s;  3.6 g/L RS;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Palest lemongreen,  virtually water-white.  Let it be said immediately that I deplore the trivialisation of wine implicit in seeking to be the first to have a new-season sauvignon on the market.  The variety is unsuited to that.  That said,  this wine is so much better than the sulphur-drenched rubbish people like Matua Valley have inflicted on this gullible market sector in past years.  The wine shows a fair sampling of the main ripening components,  nettles,  green and yellow capsicum,  some black passionfruit perhaps,  on a commercial sauvignon-dry finish and reasonable fruit.  This wine is labelled Early Release.  It is a safe bet that the later main release – just Private Bin – will be a better wine.  It is in any case foolish to drink any new-season sauvignon until six months from harvest.  The importance of sauvignon blanc both to Villa Maria and to the New Zealand wine industry is hinted at by Villa Maria's share of the market.  For them,  all sauvignon labels amount to over half a million cases (9 L),  and the Private Bin alone is over one-quarter-million cases.  The standard Private Bin label consistently scores from 85 to 90 points (occasionally) on the main American wine websites.  GK 05/13

2011  Villa Maria Viognier Cellar Selection Hawkes Bay   18 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $24   [ screwcap;  hand-harvested @ 1.5 – 2 t/ac,  100% de-stemmed,  up to 6 hours cold-soak,  80% barrel-fermented in French oak of which 25% was new,  40% of the total wine through MLF,  10 months LA and occasional batonnage;  RS 1.8 g/L;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Lemonstraw.  Unlike the quaffing varieties mentioned under verdelho,  viognier is not only a noble variety,  but also a variety pre-eminently suited to the absolutely warmest parts of New Zealand – Hawke's Bay and Waiheke Island.  Great / fine viognier is unbelievably rare on the world scale,  and in New Zealand,  like syrah,  we have the opportunity in the best years to make world-class examples.  Thus,  I was saddened to hear in idle conversation with Villa Maria winemakers that the market is so disinterested in viognier that the firm may well abandon it altogether.  This would be a tragedy,  and I urge them not to.

Villa Maria has already produced some of the best examples of viognier ever made in New Zealand,  and they have the grapes in the right place (the Gimblett Gravels – Omahu Vineyard),  unlike too many other proprietors struggling with viognier in cooler parts of Hawke's Bay.  Plus critically,  every year their Gimblett Gravels viognier has another year's age,  and thus the promise of better varietal expression.  But on top of these factors,  the Villa Maria winemakers have been attentive to the French Condrieu model,  and employed the malolactic fermentation to build in the texture and magic necessary to make viognier great.  Few New Zealand winemakers taste widely enough to even have thought this through.  So I implore Villa Maria to persist with and optimise their viognier.  If the market won't pay the Reserve price for a short-lived variety (in bottle),  regard the wine as a flagship.  Aim to be famous for New Zealand's best viognier,  competing with Passage Rock (Waiheke Island),  and export most of it under the more affordable Cellar Selection label to the United Kingdom.  And above all,  get out and promote the magical smells and tastes of this wonderful and versatile honeysuckle and apricots variety,  which is so food-friendly.

The key issue Villa Maria has to face in tackling this goal is that mentioned under verdelho.  Too many winemakers are stupidly growing viognier in parts of the country totally unsuited to it,  and producing insipid wines which silly wine-judges and winewriters then give gold medals to.  This lack of world wine knowledge (and assessing the quality that bespeaks world-class wine) is totally ruining the market in New Zealand for serious viognier from serious / thoughtful Hawke's Bay (or Waiheke) producers.  This 'dabbling' mentality in the New Zealand wine industry is one of its key failings.

So after that preamble,  what of this wine?  The colour is perfect lemonstraw,  it smells of yellow honeysuckle and canned apricots (i.e. totally varietal,  and ripe),  it shows complex elevation,  and it tastes nearly as good.  It is not quite rich enough and complex enough on bouquet or palate to be gold-medal by good Condrieu standards.  But in the context of this review,  and with reference to the many poor wines from other producers in New Zealand,  this is for the time being gold-medal New Zealand viognier.  Cellar 1 – 3 years.  GK 05/13

Sweet / Sticky
2011  Villa Maria Riesling Noble Marlborough Reserve   19  ()
Wairau Valley,  Marlborough,  New Zealand:  10.5%;  $36   [ screwcap;  hand-harvested;  cool-fermented totally in s/s;  RS 188 g/L;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Straw with a lemon wash,  very good.  Bouquet here shows all the subtlety and finesse the Late-Harvest lacks.  [ In one sense it is a surprise Villa Maria showed the  lesser Late-Harvest wine against such a benchmark wine,  but I guess in the context of such a spectacular lunch,  and being the eleventh wine in the presentation sequence,  they hoped people would not notice.]  The bouquet is demonstration-quality pale honeyed botrytis on ripe riesling fruit,  citrus with a green limey edge,  subtlest marmalade,  stunning purity,  very high-tech.  Palate is simply luscious,  gorgeous freshness,  excellent richness and nectary flavours,  all lasting well in mouth despite slightly low total acid.  Villa Maria have off and on (as the season dictates) made some beautiful Reserve Noble Rieslings since the 1990s,  and this is one of the good ones.  Well worth investing in,  and cellaring 5 – 15 years.  GK 05/13

2011  Villa Maria Riesling Late-Harvest Marlborough Cellar Selection   16 ½ +  ()
Wairau Valley,  Marlborough,  New Zealand:  11%;  $24   [ screwcap;  hand-harvested;  cool-fermented mostly in s/s,  some in older French oak;  RS 130 g/L;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Advanced straw,  a bit orange.  Bouquet too raises slight doubts about the forward development of this wine,  there being just a little oxidation / esterification on clearly botrytised riesling fruit.  Palate follows this line of interpretation,  good fruit with hints of apricots,  quite fat,  a little phenolic and broad.  It is a good flavoursome food wine,  which will please people more interested in that sort of thing than in wine per se.  Finish is a little weak with barley sugar notes,  so cellaring 1 – 3 years only might be best.  GK 05/13

All other white wines, blends, etc.
2012  Villa Maria Verdelho Ihumatao Single Vineyard Organic   17 ½  ()
Mangere,  Auckland district,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $27   [ screwcap;  24% of the wine BF in old oak only,  with full MLF of that fraction and 6 months on lees;  balance s/s;  RS 3 g/L;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Pale lemon.  Ihumatao is the vineyard in the Mangere district,  adjacent to the winery.  Over the years it has produced some remarkable fruit,  notably gewurztraminer and cabernet sauvignon,  quite different in character to other Auckland mainland sites.  But verdelho has little more merit for the New Zealand market than arneis or sauvignon gris.  However in this particular case the variety provides a neutral background for some spectacularly good winemaking.  If you've ever wondered exactly what characters barrel-ferment and lees-autolysis add to a wine,  but in the case of chardonnay the fruit flavour gets in the way,  try this wine.  The crust and crumb characters of white sandwich loaf are very apparent,  on pleasantly neutral vinifera fruit.  Likewise the increase in palate weight from the break-down of yeast protein etc is impressive.  The wine is food-friendly too.

There is an argument that if this is as good as verdelho gets,  then this should be gold-medal wine.  I practice that for worthwhile varieties like muller-thurgau and gamay noir,  but not the nonsense varieties.  Too many in the industry for ever want to try something new,  instead of mastering the staples.  At least Villa Maria attend to the latter,  before playing with minor grapes.  These varieties should be much cheaper,  being suited only to quaffing wines.  Cellar a year or two only.  GK 05/13

2012  Villa Maria Arneis Private Bin East Coast   16  ()
Hawkes Bay & Gisborne,  New Zealand:  12.5%;  $22   [ screwcap;  cool-fermented in s/s;  some months on lees to add body;  no MLF;  RS 2.8 g/L;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Straw.  Bouquet is clean and empty vinifera,  a faint hint of marzipan maybe,  more like neutral wines from trebbiano than anything.  Palate is short,  near-dry,  faintly phenolic,  some body so it works with food,  but tasting as if it would oxidise relatively early.  A waste-of-time variety,  quaffing at best but not quite priced that way,  drink now.  GK 05/13

Cabernet, Merlot, and related blends
2010  Craggy Range Merlot Gimblett Gravels   18 +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $28   [ screwcap;  Me 86%,  CF 14,  mostly machine-harvested @ 7.5 t/ha (3 t/ac);  100% de-stemmed;  inoculated ferments in s/s;  13 months in 28% new French oak;  fined and filtered;  www.craggyrange.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  slightly deeper and not quite as fresh as 2011 Sophia.  Bouquet is beautifully fragrant on bottled black doris plums,  seemingly not as floral as 2011 Sophia but it is hard to tease out the grape florals from the oak vanillin.  In its ratio of berry to oak,  this wine is much more classically Bordeaux than the Villa Reserve in this bracket.  In mouth,  the wine is softer and richer than 2011 Sophia,  more apparent plummy fruit,  less flowers,  and less new oak.  Many would prefer it for the latter detail.  This is lovely affordable highly varietal wine in a Pomerol styling to cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 05/13

2011  Craggy Range Merlot Sophia   18  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $78   [ cork;  DFB;  Me 60%,  CS 24,  CF 14,  PV 2,  hand-harvested @ just under 6.25 t/ha (2.5 t/ac);  100% de-stemmed;  inoculated ferments in s/s;  19 months in 37% new French oak (note lower ratio new oak than 5 years ago);  fined and filtered;  www.craggyrange.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  medium depth for a bordeaux blend,  the lightest of these four.  Being a young wine in the Bordeaux style,  it is much better decanted and aired.  This dissipates some of the oak vanillin and allows the deep sweet violets florals of merlot to shine through,  on bottled black doris plum fruit.  Palate is freshly plummy,  uncannily so,  textbook merlot though there are blending varieties.  It is not as rich as the 2010 straight Gimblett Gravels Merlot,  instead being a wine relying on beauty and finesse more than weight and size.  The pinpoint fruit ripeness contrasts with so many Hawke's Bay merlots,  but even here the oaking is on the noticeable side.  Elegant wine,  which will give much pleasure,  cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 05/13

2007  Villa Maria Merlot / Cabernet Sauvignon Gimblett Gravels Reserve   18  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $50   [ screwcap;  Me 50%,  CS 50,  all hand-harvested @ 6 t/ha (2.4 t/ac);  vinified @ Mangere,  100% de-stemmed;  s/s fermentation,  up to 42 days cuvaison for cabernet;  MLF and 20 months in 3-year air dried French oak 70% new;  RS nil;  filtration coarse only;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet,  the deepest of the four cabernet / merlots.  Bouquet needs decanting and air,  to become full and almost bordeaux-like in its suggestions of violets and cassisy berry in noticeable oak.  In mouth,  the ratio of oak is excessive,  but the concentration of cassisy berry is first-class.  How great it will be when the leading new world winemakers more closely model themselves on the old world masters,  especially in New Zealand where in the great years we can achieve bordeaux blends which combine delicacy with richness,  and achieve a winestyle rare on the world stage.  The quality of fruit here is simply remarkable,  the tactile richness being great.  With its large holding of Gimblett Gravels soils now amounting to 35% of the total area of this delimited zone,  we can expect stellar wines from the Villa Maria group in the years to come.  Cellar this wine 5 – 20 years.  GK 05/13

2005  Craggy Range Merlot Sophia   17 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $ –    [ cork;  DFB;  Me 62%,  CF 34,  CS 4; hand-harvested at 6.9 t/ha (2.75 t/ac) from vines average vine age 6 years;  80% new French barriques for 19 months;  www.craggyrange.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  clearly older than the 2007 Villa Maria Merlot / Cabernet Reserve.  Bouquet is oaky freshly opened,  and stays oaky with air.  Below is great plummy merlot fruit,  the wine softer and more plummy than the cassis-infused 2007 Villa Reserve.  Both however show the exuberant oak and less subtle New Zealand red winemaking typical of only a few years ago (and still too prevalent).  The quality of fruit in this Sophia is first class,  so one will be able to watch its evolution,  and the tussle between fruit and oak,  for many years to come.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 05/13

Pinot Noir
2011  Craggy Range Pinot Noir Aroha   18 ½ +  ()
Martinborough,  New Zealand:  14%;  $105   [ cork;  hand-harvested @ just under 8 t/ha (3.2 t/ac);  c.40% whole bunch;  10 months in French oak 35% new;  www.craggyrange.com ]
Perfect pinot noir ruby.  Bouquet is simply astonishing for New Zealand pinot noir,  showing a degree of velvety dark florality,  and darkest red roses and boronia on beautiful mixed cherry fruit,  which is enchanting.  In mouth the velvety impression continues,  beautiful pinot noir red and black cherry fruit,  gentle new oak,  the florality continuing in mouth like a fine but infantile Cote de Nuits wine from a sturdy vineyard such as Clos de la Roche.  The texture of this wine is sensational,  and surprising since the cropping rate is not 'grand cru' level.  It is much the best pinot noir Craggy Range have so far made,  and is amongst the best ever made in Martinborough.  What a challenge this wine provides to other New Zealand pinot noir producers.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 05/13

2010  Villa Maria Pinot Noir Marlborough Reserve   17 ½  ()
Wairau & Awatere Valleys,  Marlborough,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $50   [ screwcap;  nil whole-bunch;  12 – 16 months in French oak 25% new;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Big pinot noir ruby,  between the Villa Grenache and Craggy Aroha.  Bouquet is almost too strong in this pinot noir,  it is clearly varietal and darkly floral,  but there is a rank edge to the dark florality reminiscent of kelp.  Plentiful fruit includes red and black cherry analogies.  Palate weight is excellent,  and the whole wine lightens up considerably (positively) in mouth.  As well as cherry,  there are hints of raspberry here too,  with a trace of stalk and pepper (uneven ripeness ?) freshening the wine,  but also perhaps accounting for the slightly distracting note on bouquet.  Hard wine to score,  since it is bigger and more 'serious' than the Te Muna but not as beautiful,  and being up against the Aroha in the blind double-checking turned out to be hard for any pinot.  Needs time to mellow.  Cellar 3 – 10 years.  GK 05/13

2011  Craggy Range Pinot Noir Te Muna   17 ½  ()
Martinborough,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $38   [ cork;  hand-harvested @ 6.25 t/ha (2.5 t/ac);  c.10% whole bunch;  10 months in French oak 27% new;  www.craggyrange.com ]
Lightish pinot noir ruby.  If you ever wondered what good reputable pinot noir should smell like,  this wine is a perfect illustration of what florality means in red cherry fruit.  Aromas centre on roses,  but range from buddleia to boronia,  just beautiful.  In mouth despite the light colour the fruit weight is good,  the tannin structure much lighter than Aroha,  red cherry mostly.  In style and structure this wine illustrates the concept of pinot noir the wine,  attractively and affordably.  Cellar 3 – 8 years.  GK 05/13

Syrah = Shiraz
2010  Trinity Hill Syrah Homage   19 +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $124   [ supercritical 'cork';  hand-picked at about 2.5 t/ha (1 t/ac) from Sy 100%;  the grapes de-stemmed,  lightly crushed to leave whole berries;  shortish cuvaison;  c.15 months in French oak mostly new,  some lees stirring,  not a lot of racking;  this wine is the largest volume yet made of Homage,  nearly 600 cases;  www.trinityhill.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  a little deeper and fresher than the Huchet.  In the blind tasting the bouquet on Homage is fresher and more vibrant than the Huchet,  being wonderfully floral with fresh cassis.  Additionally,  in this tasting Homage showed a delightful hint of bush honey in the aroma,  which I didn't get last time.  This is a legitimate facet of Rhone syrah expression,  which 1982 Jaboulet Les Jumelles and other odd Rhone syrahs over the years have demonstrated,  very particular.  Palate weight is akin to the Huchet,  but the wine is slightly fresher,  as if the grapes were picked a little earlier,  with more floral notes and fresher aromatics.  There is a savoury hint here too.  Homage and Huchet make a phenomenal pair of New Zealand syrahs,  with at this moment,  Homage slightly ahead.  I imagine they will jockey for position over the next 15 years or so.  Cellar 5 – 25 years.  GK 05/13

2010  Mission Estate Syrah Huchet   19  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.2%;  $125   [ cork;  Sy 100%;  hand-picked from hand-tended vines managed to optimise grape quality;  cuvaison extending to 42 days;  15 months in barrel c.33% new;  76 cases;  the wine is named for Brother Cyprian Huchet,  the first winemaker at The Mission,  until 1899;  www.missionestate.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  a lovely colour,  not the deepest of these four syrahs.  Bouquet is simply sensational,  totally berry dominant,  totally syrah,  illustrating a rich dark wallflower and darkest rose aroma,  some vanillin new oak,  hints of sweet black pepper,  and rich bottled omega plums.  In mouth,  the wine is velvety rich,  the fruit flavours now expanding to include cassis and blueberry,  even a hint of blackberries-in-the-sun,  a suggestion of savoury complexity like many Hermitage or Cornas syrahs.  The texture is extraordinary,  velvety rich,  oak more apparent than the Homage,  but still relatively in the background.  This wine could not have been any riper,  if it were to retain clear syrah definition (as opposed to shiraz).  In style it is reminiscent of both coolest vintages of Rosemount Balmoral,  and the remarkable 2010 Passage Rock Magnus.  There are only 76 cases of this velvety beauty,  so purchase direct (and soon) from the vineyard is recommended.  Cellar 5 – 20 years.  GK 05/13

2011  Craggy Range Syrah Le Sol   18 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $105   [ cork;  Sy 100% Limmer clone,  hand-harvested a little earlier than previous years @ just under 8 t/ha (3.2 t/ac);  100% de-stemmed;  MLF and 18 months in French oak 35% new;  www.craggyrange.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  much lighter than Homage,  Huchet and particularly the Villa Reserve.  This wine is so floral that in the blind evaluation I thought it merlot,  for the lovely violets and darkest roses quality of the bouquet.  The next day the bouquet expanded to embrace wallflowers and dianthus too in its floral notes.  On the berry side there are almost pinot noir-like qualities,  the florality on the cassis softening it,  that quality accentuated by the low alcohol and very low apparent oak (on bouquet).  Palate is deceptive,  and the pinot noir analogy still holds.  This has to be the subtlest,  most feminine,  and most Cote Rotie-like Le Sol so far.  Yet it is not a small wine,  the saturation of fruit on palate is comparable exactly with the Aroha,  and like that wine it is simply beautiful.  What an evolution in style,  almost a revolution,  this Le Sol represents in the decade of Le Sols so far.  A bit silly to say revolution,  because the quality of the season also contributed to the character of this wine.  Cellar 5 – 15 years,  perhaps longer.  These four syrahs,  2010 Trinity Hill Homage,  2010 Mission Estate Huchet,  2010 Villa Maria Reserve,  and 2011 Craggy Range Le Sol,  say almost everything that can be said about great New Zealand syrah.  These are wines of international stature,  even if United Kingdom winewriters find it hard to stretch beyond 17 points for them.  GK 05/13

2010  Villa Maria Syrah Gimblett Gravels Reserve   18 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $60   [ screwcap;  Sy 100% hand-picked @ c.4.35 t/ha (1.75 t/ac),  all de-stemmed;   up to 42 days cuvaison;  MLF and 17 months in French oak 60% new;  420 cases (expressed as 9-litre equivalent) made;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  clearly the deepest of these four premium syrahs,  even fresher and more vibrant than the Homage.  Initially opened and presented,  this wine is very oaky,  so much so it fought with the over-spiced main course it accompanied in the lunch.  If using it in the next few years,  decant it and give it some air,  prior.  The wine opens to a quality of cassisy syrah which is made dramatic by the vanillin in the oak,  plus suggestions of blueberry and blackberry from some riper material.  The absolute purity of the wine alongside Huchet and Homage is phenomenal.  Flavours in mouth follow naturally,  the vanillin oak rather dominating the cassis at this early stage in its life,  so the wine loses varietal precision.  But the concentration of varietal berry is such that one has to wonder,  what will the balance be in five,  10,  and 15 years,  Cellaring the wine is absolutely essential.  This is amongst the finest reds Villa Maria have ever made,  but how I wish they would ease up on the oak,  and allow the beauty of the variety (as ripened in New Zealand) to express itself more.  Syrah is like strong pinot noir,  it does not need and is in fact impaired by too much new oak,  if purity of varietal expression is the goal.  Being under screwcap,  it will cellar for 10 – 25 years.  GK 05/13

2000  Domaine René Rostaing Cote Rotie La Landonne   18 +  ()
Cote Rotie,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13%;  $ –    [ cork;  Sy 100%;  hand-harvested,  cropping rate never exceeds 5 t/ha (2 t/ac);  24 – 26 days cuvaison,  50% or more whole-bunch;  18 months in French oak,  10% new;  RP 92,  ST 90 +,  J.L-L 3/6 stars;  www.domainerostaing.com ]
Quite fresh ruby and some velvet,  in the middle for depth.  Bouquet is to first impression the only totally modern wine in the set,  being attractive in colour and free of faults,  instead redolent of sweet wallflower aromas,  a hint of violets,  and clear cassis.  Flavours in mouth are not quite so modern,  just a trace of nutmeggy brett complexity adding the sweet and savoury notes that make these wines so good with food.  At this level,  the brett is academic.  Fruit on palate is unaffected,  the cassis and red plum flavours delightful,  oak is totally in the background,  and the nett impression shows great typicité.  Still some cellar potential here despite the modest year,  say 3 – 12 years.  Lovely wine.  GK 05/13

1999  Domaine René Rostaing Cote Rotie Cote Blonde   18  ()
Cote Rotie,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13%;  $ –    [ cork;  Sy 95 – 97%,  Vi  3 - 5;  hand-harvested,  cropping rate never exceeds 5 t/ha (2 t/ac);  24 – 26 days cuvaison,  50% or more whole-bunch;  24 months in French oak,  10% new;  JR 18,  RP 100,  ST 92 +;  www.domainerostaing.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  the deepest colour in the older Rhones,  fresher than most but older than the 2000 La Landonne.  Bouquet is voluminous on this wine,  showing exactly the portobello mushroom and grilled beef  brett complexity the UK winewriters so love,  while at the same time (in New Zealand conferences at least) flatly stating the wine shows no brett characters.  Palate is clear browning cassis and wonderfully rich,  a definitive syrah in style and structure at pinpoint perfection for ripeness:  sweet cassis grading to bottled black doris plums.  The amplitude of fruit on palate,  without any over-ripeness / sur-maturité,  is superb.  If the level of brett were not so high,  this wine would score very highly (and has in fact done so,  Parker 100).  And given that one long-experienced winemaker described the brett level as "massive",  yet still rated this wine his top wine,  and other tasters independently came to similar conclusions,  one has to start querying the excessively narrow and unforgiving view that the brett nazis (led by the Australian Wine Research Institute) have on brett.  The palate here is unaffected,  it is the richest wine in the set,  it would be glorious with food,  and maybe it is time for these extremists to acknowledge that for many wine people,  reasonable levels of brett bring that magic smell called "vinosity" to red wine,  and it also makes the wine superbly food-friendly.  Some of these people say brett leads to mouseyness,  but in my experience the smells and tastes induced by the yeast that used to be called Pichia are quite different,  and yes,  it has about the most serious negative effect on wine one can imagine.  Much more thought is needed on this whole question.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 05/13

1995  Domaine Jamet Cote Rotie   17 ½ +  ()
Cote Rotie,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  12.5%;  $ –    [ cork;  Sy 100%;  hand-harvested;  18 – 20 days cuvaison,  most years 70 - 90% whole-bunch;  up to 22 months in French oak,  20% new;  JR 18.5,  RP 92,  J.L-L 3/6 stars ]
Ruby and garnet,  some velvet,  above halfway in depth.  This is an exciting wine,  right from the start being clean,  fresh and cassis-laden,  like the Sorrel wine one to immediately remind of Bordeaux.  In mouth,  the cassis is browning,  but there is still marked florality (dusky roses,  wallflower),  oak is totally simpatico,  shaping but scarcely tasteable (how I wish Australasian winemakers tasted more syrahs like these),  acid is firm,  and there may be a hint of ripe stalks.  The wine seems youthful for its age,  a delight.  Cellar 3 – 10 years.  GK 05/13

1999  Domaine Marc Sorrel Hermitage Le Greal   17 ½ +  ()
Hermitage,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13.5%;  $ –    [ cork;  Sy 95%,  Marsanne 5;  hand-harvested;  21 days cuvaison,  100% whole-bunch in 1999;  18 – 22 months in old French oak only;  RP 90,  ST 89 – 92,  J.L-L 4/6 stars;  www.marcsorrel.fr ]
Ruby,  fresher than many,  below halfway in depth.  Initially opened,  the wine is a little reductive,  and benefits from a splashy decanting.  As it clears it becomes redolent of cassis and Medoc / cabernets styling,  quite uncannily so – another wine to immediately remind one of the former practice of Lafite Hermitagé.  First tasted,  the reduction affects the palate too,  making it hard,  but the next day the wine is exemplary syrah,  almost some wallflower florality now,  attractive acid,  not a big wine but a firm palate profile for a 14-year-old.  This will cellar 5 – 12 years to come,  being a little reductive.  Decant it well.  GK 05/13

1998  Domaine René Rostaing Cote Rotie   17 ½  ()
Cote Rotie,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13%;  $ –    [ cork;  Sy 100%;  hand-harvested,  cropping rate never exceeds 5 t/ha (2 t/ac);  24 – 26 days cuvaison,  25% whole-bunch;  18 – 24 months in French oak,  10% new;  JR 17,  RP 90 – 92,  ST 89,  J.L-L 3/6 stars;  www.domainerostaing.com ]
Ruby,  nearly some velvet,  fresher than the 1998 Chave,  the second to deepest wine.  Bouquet is classic old-style Northern Rhone,  browning cassis,  nearly some florality,  delicious complexity factors of portobello mushrooms and grilled beef,  great vinosity – in other words,  some brett.  Palate amplifies the savoury casserole qualities of good brett,  all now a bit leathery,  but there is no appreciable alteration / drying of the fruit – perhaps it is just maturing faster than a brett-free wine.  Good food wine,  which will hold 3 – 10 years.  GK 05/13

2000  Domaine J L Chave Hermitage   17 +  ()
Hermitage,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13%;  $ –    [ cork;  Sy 100%,  average vine age > 40 years,  hand-harvested;  a small percentage of whole-bunch according to vintage,  cuvaison 3 – 4 weeks;  c.18 months in French oak,  never more than 20% new,  often less;  JR 17,  RP 96,  ST 94 +,  J.L-L 3/6 stars ]
Good ruby,  fresher than many,  above midway in depth.  Freshly opened,  the wine has that gutty / gamey character so characteristic of older-style Northern Rhone wines,  which makes the wines sometimes confuseable with burgundy.  Again this is brett,  but in this case with some bottle stink.  Accordingly,  the wine was transformed with air.  Next day it was almost fresh,  softly floral,  gentle cassis berry notes browning now,  smelling old and fragrant for its age.  The cassisy and plummy fruit on palate is good,  acid slightly noticeable,  oak invisible,  quite soft wine as if Cote Rotie.  This should hold for 3 – 12 years yet,  but needs really vigorous decanting – it was almost unpleasant to start with .  GK 05/13

1998  Guigal Cote Rotie Brune & Blonde   17  ()
Cote Rotie,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13%;  $ –    [ cork;  Sy 96%,  Vi 4;  average vine age 35 years;  cropped 5t/ha (2 t/ac);  21 days cuvaison;  36 months in French oak 40% new (may have been less then);  JR 17.5,  RP 90,  ST 90 +,  J.L-L 4/6 stars;  www.guigal.com ]
Ruby and garnet,  below midway in depth.  Initial impressions are of a more old-fashioned wine,  trace oxidation in the sense of classic barolo / slightly leathery,  but fragrant and winey too.  Compared with the more highly-rated wines,  palate weight and fruit concentration are lighter here and oak influence is a little more noticeable,  though it is very fragrant cedary oak.  Like nearly all Guigal wines,  it is beautifully balanced in its style,  and superb with food.  Fully mature,  but will hold 3 – 10 years.  GK 05/13

1995  Domaine J L Chave Hermitage   16 ½ +  ()
Hermitage,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13%;  $ –    [ cork;  Sy 100%,  average vine age > 40 years,  hand-harvested;  a small percentage of whole-bunch according to vintage,  cuvaison 3 – 4 weeks;  c.18 months in French oak,  never more than 20% new,  often less;  JR 18,  RP 95,  ST 94 +,  J.L-L 5/6 stars ]
Ruby and garnet,  well below halfway.  Bouquet freshly opened is tending faded,  tired,  oxidised and some brett,  smelling of oldish but not unpleasant mature Rhone red.  With air and overnight like so many others,  it has much more to say,  becoming much more varietal and typical.  In mouth it is quite different,  being soft and velvety on well-browning cassis,  a total harmony such that blind I thought it the Guigal,  the new oak showing.  Fully mature,  lighter than some,  but will hold 2 – 5 years.  GK 05/13

1998  Domaine Michel Ogier Cote Rotie   16 ½ +  ()
Cote Rotie,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  12%;  $ –    [ cork;  Sy 100%;  hand-harvested,  at least 21 days cuvaison,  20% whole-bunch;  18 months in French oak,  30% new;  JR 15,  RP 90,  ST 90 +,  J.L-L 3/6 stars ]
Ruby,  a flush of garnet,  midway in depth.  First impressions on this wine are a reminder of Martinborough syrah,  red fruits browning with some white pepper and a hint of stalk,  plus light brett to take it back to the Rhone.  The wine comes together nicely in mouth,  good fruit weight at its sub-optimal ripeness point,  as with some others the brett more apparent now,  but all food-friendly and attractive,  the hint of stalk adding freshness.  Mature,  but will hold 2 – 5 years.  GK 05/13

1998  Domaine J L Chave Hermitage   16 ½  ()
Hermitage,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13%;  $ –    [ cork;  Sy 100%,  average vine age > 40 years,  hand-harvested;  a small percentage of whole-bunch according to vintage,  cuvaison 3 – 4 weeks;  c.18 months in French oak,  never more than 20% new,  often less;  JR 17,  RP 93,  ST 94 +,  J.L-L 5/6 stars ]
Ruby and garnet,  old for age, one of the lightest.  Freshly opened,  the wine has a very strong and negative medicinal / stalky / nearly rosemary oil character on bouquet,  and tastes similar.  With a good deal of aeration and next day it is transformed,  the nett character now being browning cassis in a more typical brett-related complexity,  which is quite winey.  First opened,  it was distinctly on the band-aid / medicinal side of brett.  Palate is firm on syrah fruit which may not have been optimally ripe (in a drought year),  some oak showing,  fairly mature.  This is a hard wine to score,  at the first showing it being my bottom wine,  but the more air it has the better it gets.  A wine to highlight the complicating factor in wine appraisal that first impressions are not always correct.  Will hold 2 – 6 years,  in its style,  being a little richer than the 1995.  GK 05/13

1979  Domaine Jasmin Cote Rotie   16 ½  ()
Cote Rotie,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:   – %;  $ –    [ cork;  Sy c.95%,  Vi c.5;  hand-harvested,  mostly whole-bunch then;  18 months in French oak,  c.12% new ]
Light garnet and ruby,  lighter than all the formal set of 12 wines.  Bouquet is rather like the Michel Ogier above,  fragrant with trace white pepper in well-faded red more than black fruits,  all now browning and faded.  Fruit on palate however is a delight,  archetypal Cote Rotie,  pretty and fragrant,  still with flesh,  great with a chicken dish.  The brett nazis need to account for the fact this palate is still so harmonious 34 years later,  given the wine has brett.  Fully mature to (no doubt) too old for some.  GK 05/13

1994  Chapoutier Ermitage Le Pavillon   16 +  ()
Hermitage,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13.5%;  $ –    [ cork;  Sy 100% hand-harvested;  nil whole bunch;   cuvaison up to 4 weeks;  15 – 18 months in 50% new French oak;  RP 96,  J.L-L 4/6 stars;  www.chapoutier.com ]
Ruby and garnet,  near the middle for depth,  apart from the (out of class) Jasmin,  the oldest.  Bouquet is another with reminders of classic / older barolo,  some oxidation on the chestnutty aroma,  a hint of browning raspberry jam more than anything clear on the fruit side.  Palate shows fair richness in its fully mature soft style,  a leathery faintly bitter edge to the fading fruit.  Would be delightful in a dinner context,  but doesn't judge so well in a formal tasting.  Cellar 3 – 8 years.  GK 05/13

1995  Domaine René Rostaing Cote Rotie   15  ()
Cote Rotie,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  12.5%;  $ –    [ cork;  Sy 100%;  hand-harvested,  cropping rate never exceeds 5 t/ha (2 t/ac);  24 – 26 days cuvaison,  25% whole-bunch;  18 – 24 months in French oak,  10% new;  JR 17,  RP 90 – 92,  ST 89,  J.L-L 4/6 stars;  www.domainerostaing.com ]
Ruby and garnet,  the lightest and oldest of the 12 (apart from the out-of-class Jasmin).  Bouquet is light,  slightly oxidised with very little to say,  old for its age.  Palate is surprisingly short,  phenolic,  acid apparent,  much less fruit and flavour than the Jasmin 16 years older.  Crozes quality at best,  and straightforward Crozes at that.  Finish up with flavoursome food.  GK 05/13

Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre & related blends
2010  Villa Maria Grenache Gimblett Gravels Cellar Selection   17 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $32   [ screwcap;  Gr 92%,  Ma 6,  Sy 2,  hand-harvested from 12-year old vines,  100% de-stemmed,  80% tank-fermented,  20% in a wooden cuvée;  up to 6 weeks cuvaison;  MLF and 20 months in barrel 30% new;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Big pinot noir ruby,  deeper than the Aroha (relevant since grenache is a thin-skinned variety).  Bouquet shows a volume of red raspberry-like fruit with a big vanillin lift,  as if there were new American oak – not so.  The whole style of the wine is extraordinary for New Zealand reds,  reminiscent (loosely speaking) of a fragrant cooler year Chateauneuf-du-Pape such as Saint Cosme.  Palate is rich pinot noir in weight,  but the fruits are red-dominant with raspberry and loganberry plus this vanillin oak,  and acid noticeable.  What a pleasure it is to see grenache of this calibre in New Zealand,  but it truly is beyond the outer limits of the warmest New Zealand districts to ripen the variety successfully in any commercial sense.  Villa Maria winemakers commented that they have only been able to ripen grenache as a successful stand-alone wine in three vintages out of the last 14.  Beautiful cool climate grenache betrayed by a hint of stalk and pepper,  to cellar 3 – 12 years.  GK 05/13